What should we do to break America’s “deafening silence” over the Holocaust?
for our forty-nine years of friendship,
our joyous journey through a lifetime of scholarship,
and our ceaseless collaboration
in recovering and writing American
history’s missing chapters.
Acclaim for Ronald Takaki’s
A DIFFERENT MIRROR
“In our increasingly diverse society, the issues of race, ethnicity, and religion are often at the forefront of American consciousness, and always in the backs of our minds, shaping our own identity and our views of others. They reverberate in our voting booths, town halls classrooms, and popular culture. In this timely update of A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, Professor Ronald Takaki examines the challenges we face in reconciling our differences and forming a secure, sustainable future for our country. Now more than ever, it’s essential that we understand and embrace our diversity if we are to grow together as a nation.”
—President Bill Clinton
“A valuable contribution to the discussion of America as a multicultural society.”
“Takaki’s book is nothing less than an attempt to a view all of American history from a multiculrual perspective. It is a laudable effort—humane, well informed, accessible, and often incisive. It is clearly not intended to divide American but rather to teach them to value the nations’ inescapable diversity.”
—New York Times Book Review
“A groundbreaker…. It’s fascinating to watch Takaki weave these multifaceted strands into a single narrative text.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“While Takaki’s subtitle is ‘a history of multicultural America,’ his book is also a manifesto for the future.”
—New York Review of Books
“A Different Mirror demonstrates that employing a multicultural approach to American history is a necessary first step toward the binding together of our disunited nation.”
—Detroit Free Press
“A Different Mirror advances a truly humane sense of American possibility.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Also by Ronald Takaki
A Pro-Slavery Crusade: The Agitation to Reopen the African Slave Trade
Violence in the Black Imagination: Essays and Documents
Iron Cages: Race and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America
Pau Hana: Plantation Life and Labor in Hawaii
From Different Shores: Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America
Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans
Hiroshima: Why American Dropped the Atomic Bomb
A Large Memory: A History of Our Diversity with Voices
Debating Diversity: Clashing Perspectives on Race and Ethnicity in America
Double Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II
1 A Different Mirror: The Making of Multicultural America
PART ONE: FOUNDATIONS Before Columbus: Vinland
2 The “Tempest” in the Wilderness: A Tale of Two Frontiers Shakespeare’s Dream About America English Over Irish English Over Indian Virginia: To “Root Out” Indians as a People New England: The “Utter Extirpation” of Indians Stolen Lands: A World Turned “Upside Down”
3 The Hidden Origins of Slavery A View from the Cabins: Black and White Together “English and Negroes in Armes” : Bacon’s Rebellion “White Over Black”
PART TWO: CONTRADICTIONS The Rise of the Cotton Kingdom
4 Toward “the Stony Mountains” : From Removal to Reservation Andrew Jackson: “To… Tread on the Graves of Extinct Nations” The Embittered Human Heart: The Choctaws “The Trail of Tears” : The Cherokees “American Progress” : “Civilization” Over “Savagery”
5 “No More Peck o’ Corn” : Slavery and Its Discontents “North of Slavery” Was “Sambo” Real? Frederick Douglass: Son of His Master Martin Delany: Father of Black Nationalism “Tell Linkum Dat We Wants Land”
6 Fleeing “the Tyrant’s Heel” : “Exiles” from Ireland Behind the Emigration: “John Bull Must Have the Beef” An “Immortal Irish Brigade” of Workers Irish “Maids” and “Factory Girls” “Green Power” : The Irish “Ethnic” Strategy
7 “Foreigners in Their Native Land” : The War Against Mexico “We Must Be Conquerors or We Are Robbers” Anglo Over Mexican
8 Searching for Gold Mountain: Strangers from a Different Shore Pioneers from Asia Twice a Minority: Chinese Women in America A Colony of “Bachelors” A Sudden Change in Fortune: The San Francisco Earthquake “Caught in Between” : Chinese Born in America
PART THREE: TRANSITIONS The End of the Frontier: The Emergence of an American Empire
9 The “Indian Question” : From Reservation to Reorganization The Massacre at Wounded Knee Where the Buffalo No Longer Roam Allotment and Assimilation The Indian “New Deal” : What Kind of a “Deal” Was It?
10 Pacific Crossings: From Japan to the Land of “Money Trees” Picture Brides in America
Tears in the Canefields Transforming California: From Deserts to Farms The Nisei: Americans by Birth
11 The Exodus from Russia: Pushed by Pogroms A Shtetl in America In the Sweatshops: An Army of Garment Workers Daughters of the Colony Up from “Greenhorns” : Crossing Delancey Street
12 El Norte: Up from Mexico Sprinkling the Fields with the Sweat of Their Brows Tortillas and Rotis: Mixed Marriages On the Other Side of the Tracks The Barrio: A Mexican-American World
13 To “the Land of Hope” : Blacks in the Urban North “The Wind Said North” The Crucible of the City Black Pride in Harlem “But a Few Pegs to Fall” : The Great Depression
PART FOUR: TRANSFORMATIONS The Problem of the Color Lines
14 World War II: American Dilemmas Japanese Americans: “A Tremendous Hole” in the Constitution African Americans: “Bomb the Color Line” Chinese Americans: To “Silence the Distorted Japanese Propaganda” Mexican Americans: Up from the Barrio Native Americans: “Why Fight the White Man’s War?” Jewish Americans: A “Deafening Silence” A Holocaust Called Hiroshima
15 Out of the War: Clamors for Change
Rising Winds for Social Justice Raisins in the Sun: Dreams Deferred Asian Americans: A “Model Minority” for Blacks?
16 Again, the “Tempest-Tost” From a “Teeming Shore” : Russia, Ireland, and China Dragon’s Teeth of Fire: Vietnam Wars of Terror: Afghanistan Beckoned North: Mexico
17 “We Will All Be Minorities”
Author’s Note: Epistemology and Epiphany
A DIFFERENT MIRROR
A DIFFERENT MIRROR
The Making of
I HAD FLOWN from San Francisco to Norfolk and was riding in a taxi. The driver and I chatted about the weather and the tourists. The sky was cloudy, and twenty minutes away was Virginia Beach, where I was scheduled to give a keynote address to hundreds of teachers and administrators at a conference on multicultural education. The rearview mirror reflected a white man in his forties. “How long have you been in this country?” he asked. “All my life,” I replied, wincing. His question was one I had been asked too many times, even by northerners with Ph.D.’s. “I was born in the United States,” I added. He replied: “I was wondering because your English is excellent!” Then I explained: “My grandfather came here from Japan in the 1880s. My family has been here, in America, for over a hundred years.” He glanced at me in the mirror. To him, I did not look like an American.
Suddenly, we both became uncomfortably conscious of a divide between us. An awkward silence turned my gaze from the mirror to the passing scenery. Here, at the eastern edge of the continent, I mused, was the site of the beginning of multicultural America. Our highway crossed land that Sir Walter Raleigh had renamed “Virginia” in honor of Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. Taking lands from the Indians, the English colonizers founded Jamestown in 1607, and six years later they shipped the first four barrels of tobacco to London. Almost immediately, tobacco became an immensely profitable export crop, and the rise of the tobacco economy generated an insatiable demand for Indian land as well as for labor from England, Ireland, and Africa. In 1619, a year before the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, a Dutch slave ship landed the first twenty Africans at Jamestown. Indeed, history saturated the surrounding landscape.
Questions like the one that my taxi driver asked me are always jarring. But it was not his fault that he did not see me as a fellow citizen: what had he learned about Asian Americans in courses called “U.S. history” ? He saw me through a filter—what I call the Master Narrative of American History. According to this powerful and popular but inaccurate story, our country was settled by European immigrants, and Americans are white. “Race,” observed Toni Morrison, has functioned as a “metaphor” necessary to the “construction of Americanness” : in the creation of our national identity, “American” has been defined as “white.”1 Not to be “white” is to be designated as the “Other”—different, inferior, and unassimilable.
The Master Narrative is deeply embedded in our mainstream culture and can be found in the scholarship of a long list of preeminent historians. The father of the Master Narrative was Frederick Jackson Turner. In 1893, two years after the Census Bureau announced that Americans had settled the entire continent and that the frontier had come to an end, Turner gave a presentation at the meeting of the American Historical Association. Entitled “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” his paper would make him famous. Turner would become the dean of American history, his influence spanning generations of historians to come.
In what would be hailed as the “frontier thesis,” Turner declared that the end of the frontier marked “the closing of a great historic movement”—the colonization of the Great West. He explained that the frontier had been “the meeting point between savagery and civilization.” At this intersection, the Europeans had been “Americanized” by the wilderness. Initially, “the wilderness masters the colonist. It finds him a European in dress, industries, tools, modes of travel and thought. It takes him from the railroad car and puts him in a birch canoe. It strips off the garments of civilization, and arrays him in the hunting shirt and moccasin. It puts him in the log cabin of the Cherokee and Iroquois.… Before long he has gone to planting Indian corn and plowing with a sharp stick; he shouts the war cry and takes the scalp in orthodox Indian fashion.” But “little by little he transforms the wilderness” ; in “a series of Indian wars,” the “stalwart and rugged” frontiersman takes land from the Indians for white settlement and the advance of “manufacturing civilization.” “The outcome is not the Old Europe,” Turner exclaimed. “The fact is that here is a new product that is American.”2
In Turner’s footsteps came Harvard historian Oscar Handlin. In his 1945 prizewinning study The Uprooted, Handlin presented—to use the book’s subtitle—The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People. In his introduction, Handlin wrote: “I once thought to write a history of immigrants in America. I discovered that the immigrants were American history.”3 However, Handlin studied only the migrations from Europe. His “epic story” overlooked the indigenous people of the continent and also the “uprooted” from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Contrary to the views of historians like Turner and Handlin, America is a nation peopled by the world, and we are all Americans.
The Master Narrative’s narrow definition of who is an American reflects and reinforces a more general thinking that can be found in the curriculum, news and entertainment media, business practices, and public policies. Through this filter, interpretations of ourselves and the world have been constructed, leaving many of us feeling left out of history and America itself.
Today, our expanding racial diversity is challenging the Master Narrative. Demography is declaring: Not all of us came originally from Europe! Currently, one-third of the American people do not trace their ancestries to Europe; in California, minorities have become the majority. They already predominate in major cities across the country—Boston, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Diversity is emerging as America’s “manifest destiny.”
Within the lifetime of young people today, Americans of European ancestry will become a minority. Indeed, we will all be minorities. How can we prepare ourselves for this future, when the Master Narrative is such a powerful force in our thinking about the past? Analyzing the problem, fourteen-year-old Nicholas Takaki reported that his American history course had taught him “next to nothing about the significance of Asian Americans. I believe our education system as a whole has not integrated the histories of all people into our education system, just the Eurocentric view of itself, and the White-centered view of African Americans, and even this is slim to nonexistent. What I find is that most people don’t know the fact that they don’t know, because of the complete lack of information.”4
Increasingly aware of this ignorance, educators everywhere have begun to recognize the need to recover the missing chapters of American history. In 1990, the Task Force on Minorities for New York stressed the importance
of a culturally diverse education. “Essentially,” the New York Times commented, “the issue is how to deal with both dimensions of the nation’s motto: ‘E pluribus unum’—‘Out of many, one.’” Universities from New Hampshire to Berkeley have established American cultural diversity graduation requirements. “Every student needs to know,” explained University of Wisconsin chancellor Donna Shalala, “much more about the origins and history of the particular cultures which, as Americans, we will encounter during our lives.” Even the University of Minnesota, located in a state that is 98 percent white, requires its students to take ethnic-studies courses. Asked why multiculturalism is so important, Dean Fred Lukermann answered: As a national university, Minnesota has to offer a national curriculum—one that includes all of the peoples of America. He added that after graduation many students move to cities like Chicago and Los Angeles and thus need to know about racial diversity. Moreover, many educators stress, multiculturalism has an intellectual purpose: a more inclusive curriculum is also a more accurate one.5
Indeed, the study of diversity is essential for understanding how and why America became what Walt Whitman called a “teeming nation of nations.”6
Multicultural scholarship, however, has usually focused on just one minority. Thus, Cornel West in Race Matters covers only African Americans, Dee Brown in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee only Native Americans, Irving Howe in World of Our Fathers only Jewish Americans, Mario Barrera in Race and Class in the Southwest only Mexican Americans, and even I myself in Strangers from a Different Shore only Asian Americans. While enriching and deepening our knowledge of a particular group, this approach examines a specific minority in isolation from the others and the whole. Missing is the bigger picture.
In our approach, we will instead study race and ethnicity inclusively and comparatively. While it would be impossible to cover all groups in one book, we will focus on several of them that illustrate and illuminate the landscape of our society’s diversity—African Americans, Asian Americans, Irish Americans, Jewish Americans, Mexican Americans, Muslim Americans, and Native Americans.
African Americans have been the central minority throughout our country’s history. Even fifty years after their first arrival in Virginia, Africans still represented only a tiny percentage of the colony’s population. The planters preferred workers from their homeland, for they wanted their
new society to be racially homogeneous. This thinking abruptly changed, however, in 1676, when the elite encountered an uprising of discontented and armed workers. After quelling the insurrection with reinforcements of British troops, the planters turned to Africa for their primary labor supply; the new workers would be enslaved and prohibited from owning arms. Subsequently, the African population spiked upward, and slavery spread across the South. African Americans would remain degraded as unpaid laborers and dehumanized as property until the Civil War. What President Abraham Lincoln called “this mighty scourge of war” finally ended “the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil.” But a grim future awaited African Americans: Jim Crow segregation, lynchings, race riots, and what W. E. B. Du Bois called “the problem of the color line.” Still, they insistently struggled for freedom. Joined by people of other races in the sixties, African Americans marched and sang, “We shall overcome,” winning significant victories that changed society. Indeed, the history of African Americans has been stitched into the history of America itself. Martin Luther King, Jr., clearly understood this truth when he wrote from a jail cell: “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny.”7
Asian Americans began arriving in America long before many European immigrants. Seeking “Gold Mountain,” the Chinese were among the Forty- Niners. Then they worked on the railroad, in the agricultural fields of the West Coast states, and in the factories of California and even Massachusetts. As “strangers” coming from a “different shore,” they were stereotyped as “heathen” and unassimilable. Wanted as sojourning laborers, the Chinese were not welcomed as settlers. During an economic depression, Congress passed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act—the first law that prohibited the entry of immigrants on the basis of nationality. The Chinese condemned this restriction as racist and tyrannical. “They call us ‘Chink,’” complained a Chinese immigrant, cursing the “white demons.” “They think we no good! America cut us off. No more come now, too bad!” The Japanese also painfully discovered that their accomplishments in America did not lead to acceptance. During World War II, the government interned a hundred twenty thousand Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them citizens by birth. “How could I as a six-month-old child born in this country,” asked Congressman Robert Matsui years later, “be declared by my own
Government to be an enemy alien?”8 In 1975, after the collapse of Saigon, tens of thousands of refugees fled to America from the tempest of the Vietnam War. Today, Asian Americans represent one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in America, projected to represent 10 percent of the total U.S. population by 2050.
Initially, the Irish came here in the early seventeenth century. At that time, many of them were brought to Virginia involuntarily as captives of the English wars in Ireland and as indentured servants in the Irish “slave trade.” During the nineteenth century, four million Irish emigrated to escape the hunger caused not only by the Potato Famine, but also by the rise of a ranching economy. In order to expand grazing lands, English landlords evicted Irish families from their farms. As beef exports from Ireland to England rose, so did the number of people leaving Ireland. In America, these immigrants became construction workers, maids, and factory workers in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts. Representing a Catholic group seeking to settle in a fiercely Protestant society, the Irish became victims of nativist hostility. They came about the same time as the Chinese, but they had a distinct advantage: the Naturalization Law of 1790 had reserved citizenship for “whites” only. Consequently, the Irish became citizens, and, as voters, they pursued an “ethnic” strategy. They elected Irish to city councils and mayorships, and their elected officials made certain that Irish builders were given construction contracts and that Irish men were hired as firemen and policemen. By 1900, the Irish were entering the middle class.9
Fleeing pogroms in Russia, Jews were driven from what John Cuddihy described as the “Middle Ages into the Anglo-American world of the goyim ‘beyond the pale.’” In America, they settled in the Lower East Side, a beehive of tenements and garment factories that exploited an army of Jewish women. To many Jews, America represented the Promised Land. This vision energized them to rise from “greenhorns” into middle-class Americans. Stressing the importance of education, they pooled family resources; the earnings of the daughters working in the sweatshops helped to support the education of their brothers in institutions like New York City College and Harvard. But as Jewish immigrants and their children were entering the mainstream, they found themselves facing the rise of Hitler and the horror of the ultimate pogrom. Safe in America, they asked themselves: What is our responsibility as Jews to Hitler’s victims? What should we do to break America’s “deafening silence” over the Holocaust? Demanding
that America do everything it could to rescue people destined for the death camps, Jewish Americans encountered a tide of anti-Semitism and indifference. From the war emerged a Jewish-American activism for human rights and social justice. Jack Greenberg of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund recalled that Jews cheered when Jackie Robinson broke into the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. “He was adopted as the surrogate hero by many of us growing up at the time. He was the way we saw ourselves triumphing against the forces of bigotry and ignorance.” Jews like Howard Zinn and Stanley Levison stood shoulder to shoulder with African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement.10 During the 1964 Freedom Summer, over half of the white volunteers who went South were Jewish.
Mexican Americans were first incorporated into the United States by the 1846–48 war against Mexico. They did not come to America; instead, the border was moved when the United States annexed the Southwest. Most of the Mexican Americans today, however, have immigrant roots, having begun the trek to El Norte in the early twentieth century. “As I had heard a lot about the United States,” Jesus Garza recalled, “it was my dream to come here.” The Mexican-American experience has been different from that of other immigrants, for their homeland borders the United States—a proximity that has helped reinforce their language, identity, and culture. Today, Mexicans are still crossing the border, pushed by poverty from the south and pulled northward by employment opportunities. Most of the current twelve million “illegal immigrants” are from Mexico, and a burning public policy question is: What should the government do about them? One answer was given by Time magazine in its June 18, 2007, cover story: “Give them amnesty.” The illegals are “by their sheer numbers undeportable. More important, they are too enmeshed in a healthy U.S. economy to be extracted.” “Assimilation is slow, but inevitable.” We must have “faith in America’s undimmed ability to metabolize immigrants from around the world, to change them more than they change the U.S.”11 Indeed, like other immigrant groups, Mexican Americans have been learning English, applying for naturalized citizenship, voting, and becoming Americans.
Among Muslim Americans are the refugees from Afghanistan. After their country was invaded by the Russians in 1979, the United States intervened, financing and arming the mujahideen—the anti-Soviet “freedom fighters.” After the Russian defeat in 1989, civil war broke out,
ending with the ascendancy of the religiously conservative and oppressive Taliban. Safe in America, the Afghan refugees were hardly noticed. On September 11, 2001, however, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon suddenly changed the lives of Afghans in America. The hijackers were traced to Al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden and based in Afghanistan. On that unforgettable day, Nadeem Saaed was afraid that Afghan Americans would be attacked and arrested. “Being Afghan American is not what people think it was before; now it’s what people want to know about you and who you really are inside, an American or a terrorist.”12 In 2002, Western powers led by the United States invaded Afghanistan, seeking to destroy Al-Qaeda. The Taliban was quickly routed, but not vanquished. Omar Nourzaie summed up the challenge facing Afghan Americans: “The refugees know that a return to Afghanistan is not in their near future. They will have to change and make do in America.”13
Native Americans represent a significant contrast to all of the other groups, for theirs was not an immigrant experience. They were the original Americans, here for thousands of years before the voyage of Columbus. They were on the shores of Massachusetts and Virginia when the English arrived in 1607. Indians had been farming the land for centuries, but the English colonizers stereotyped them as “savages” and seized their lands by warfare. Westward would be the course of empire, across Indian lands all the way to the Pacific. Leaders of military campaigns against the native people were celebrated as heroes. One of them was the Indian fighter and architect of Indian removal, President Andrew Jackson. In a message to Congress, he declared: “Humanity has often wept over the fate of the aborigines of this country, and Philanthropy has been long busily employed in devising means to avert it, but its progress has never for a moment been arrested, and one by one have many powerful tribes disappeared from the earth. To follow to the tomb the last of his race and tread on the graves of extinct nations excite melancholy reflections.” But Indians had a different interpretation of what Jackson trumpeted as “progress.” “The white man,” Luther Standing Bear of the Sioux explained, “does not understand the Indian for the reason that he does not understand America. The man from Europe is still a foreigner and an alien. And he still hates the man who questioned his path across the continent.”14
The “path” was designed to create a white America. The revolutionaries of 1776 founded a white republic, a democracy that was not for all people. In 1787, the Constitution legalized the institution of slavery. One of its provisions stated that the number of representatives each state sent to Congress was to be determined by the number of “free persons” and “three fifths of all other persons,” the code phrase for slaves. In 1801, shortly before negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison that he looked forward to distant times when the American continent would be covered with “a people speaking the same language, governed in similar forms, and by similar laws.”15
As it turned out, the economy would set a different agenda for who would be the people covering the continent. The War for Independence had been a struggle not only for political freedom from England but also for market freedom—freedom to trade without regulations from the mother country, to manufacture goods without restrictions, and to settle the land beyond the Appalachian Mountains. Unleashed, the new republic entered the era of the Market Revolution that would pull to America what Whitman welcomed as a “vast, surging hopeful army of workers.”16
What should we do to break America’s “deafening silence” over the Holocaust?